So, this is it: the very last post on John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating. One of my favorite things about writing this sort of extended-review-critique-thing is that I get to interact with all of you– especially since I grew up in an environment where books like Captivating were far too liberal for me to read. I didn’t have the same sort of experiences that many of you have had; this wasn’t a book I was given by a well-meaning Sunday school teacher, I never had to sit through a “Bible study” dedicated to it. In the end, I absorbed many of the same messages, but the way I was given them was much more toxic, and I believe that level of toxicity makes it easier for me to reject some of those ideas.
I was honestly surprised by Captivating. When I was wrapping up my review series on Fascinating Womanhood, I went looking for the most popular books I could find that covered similar ground, and at the time I believed that what I’d find would be . . . I dunno, maybe not so clearly awful. So when I dug into Captivating and really just found the same exact beliefs as what Helen Andelin promoted, only with a more palatable verbiage coating, it made me angry. I wanted to believe that evangelicalism had moved past the obvious nonsense that Helen wrote about in the 60s… but apparently we haven’t at all.
Anyway, on to the chapter: a lot of it is “buy more of our stuff!” They have CDs and conferences and retreats and study guides and journals and Wild at Heart to push, after all. But, before the sales pitch, Stasi gives us a reason to buy all of their stuff:
So stay with this! This way of life John and I have laid out here has utterly transformed the lives of thousands of women … But you must choose it. You must be intentional, or the world, your flesh, and the devil will have you for lunch.
I just had to laugh and shake my head when I got to that threat, especially when it was followed by a page-long commercial.
This also made me smirk:
Women need men. We will always need them. We need them as a godly covering over us to protect us from other men, from the world, and especially from the enemy. Mary had Joseph. Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz. We will not become the women God intends us to be without the guidance, counsel, wisdom, strength, and love of good men in our lives.
Esther had Mordecai. Ruth had Boaz.
Right. Because the fact that Esther was kidnapped and forced into a harem was totally Mordecai “protecting her from other men, the world, and especially the enemy.” Granted, her book shows Mordecai offering her advice, but he wasn’t exactly a covering. And Ruth had Boaz? Because Boaz was totally there when Ruth thew off the shackles of her patriarchal culture and decided to follow a woman to a country she’d never been in before and set up house in a town completely hostile to Moabite women (not the least because God commanded them to be that way).
I also couldn’t help but think about all of the women in the Bible who did awesome stuff all on their own. Huldah. Deborah. Dorcas. Men don’t picture in their stories. Deborah, who was married, was the Judge of all Israel, and she ended up being the “covering” for her general. Dorcas was a widow, but was so vital to the ministry of the early church that she was raised from the dead. The king went to Huldah to authenticate the Torah before he went to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Not much “covering” happening there.
It’s just hilarious to me how much of the Bible you have to pretend doesn’t exist in order to think the things about women that a lot of evangelicals do.
At this point, I wanted to take the time to share some of the comments that I’ve gotten on these posts about the experiences some of you have had with Captivating. I think it’s important to highlight the damage that books like these can cause, especially when there’s not very many ways for us to share our pain with the churches trying to pawn these ideologies off on us.
This book was super damaging to me when I read it as a young adult/college student. The idea that women need to be rescued is SUPER damaging, and it creates this idea that we need to depend on men/others to take care of us. Which can land and trap you in some very abusive situations.
I don’t remember if those things were explicitly stated, but they were things I learned from this book.
I grew up believing in gender essentialism, and I was always trying to be “the woman God wanted me to be.” But I’m nothing like the women Staci describes in this book. I don’t value external appearance. Like, at all. I keep my hair short because it is a pain in the butt to take care of otherwise. I am not nurturing. I value my career. I like working. I’m not naturally good with people/relationships, and I don’t want to have kids.
And these are things I was always made to feel ashamed of in the Christian church. I felt like a failure to God because I didn’t have long flowing hair and magical social skills. Books like Staci’s only served to confirm what I had already been taught: that I was “wrong” somehow.
I felt the same way reading through Captivating: it’s entirely circular, and apparently, I don’t exist. “Being a woman is good. Women are womanly, so it’s OK to be who you are. Who you are is valuable. Unless you’re not womanly the way I am womanly. In which case, you can forget about ever being acceptable. Are you sure you aren’t repressing who you REALLY are? Maybe you should change into a more stereotypical woman: because there is something wrong with women like you. Women who are womanly like me get to ‘be ourselves’ because we are God’s design. You get to fake it until you make it.”
Way to go Stacy: You can make (what? guessing the stats here…) maybe 85% of women feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and how they fit God’s design for our gender. Too bad all those warm feelings come at the cost of the 15% that you don’t think are entitled to be members of the same gender as you and your cool womanly friends. That’s OK, Stacy. We’ve met you before. “Mean girls” have been excluding others from their version of femininity since we all turned 10 years old. I don’t think you get to recruit God into your clique just because you married a minister though.
When I came out to my best friend (she’s an evangelical Christian), she used that same language of that I was damaged, hurt, broken, and needed God to set me right again. To heal me. To restore me. It didn’t matter that I’d never, ever been sexually attracted to guys. My memories of my own life didn’t matter. How I identify is just a disagreement she and I have.
That language Stasi is using is used so incredibly often against anyone who dares to act outside the conscripted norms, who aren’t exactly the way Christians like Stasi believe people should act. This language is so incredibly damaging. To this day, I still struggle with trying to view myself as whole. I still wonder if they’re right. If I am a damaged, broken, wreck of a human being because my sexuality isn’t straight, because I struggle with my gender identity, because I hate wearing dresses.
And it makes it all the worse when they act all sympathetic and want to help. Even though what they’re doing is just making it worse.
It’s pretty horrifying. I grew up in a conservative religious home and as time passed we had all the proper books; and I got married and we got more of the proper books. I’ve read about everything proper out there about how to properly be a woman, until I stopped reading them. It’s horrifying. They spend half their time telling you this is natural and how you were created, and the other half telling you how and why you should do what you’d presumably be doing anyway IF IT WERE NATURAL. It’s not, and that’s why we have such a cottage industry of books for women policing them back into their “place.”
This wouldn’t require such effort if it were in fact natural, and if women were in fact all the same deep down as the authors would like us to believe. It’s false, false, false, and there’s just enough truth and just enough spiritual language to get all the bull past people’s radar.
Wait, so being a “strong” woman is bad, as women are supposed to be vulnerable etc. The opposite of strong is weak.
But a “weak” woman married to an abusive husband is an accomplice to her own abuse and the abuse of others.
No way out for women in abusive situations, then. Thanks, Stasi. You are such an encouragement to battered, confused, and forcibly submissive women everywhere.
I read the book as soon as it came out years ago when I was still searching through the popular evangelical self-help doctrines for the reason why I hated myself. This book only served to increase my shame over not acting feminine enough (not to mention deepening my humiliation over being a ”weak” female in the first place), and sent me into a pretty deep depression. Which, of course, I was supposed to pray myself out of to be a happy, demure, peace-filled Christian beauty. *gags*
I wanted to focus on this part of the quote, “alluring those in our lives to the heart of God.” An interesting choice of verb. Women can’t teach, can’t explain, can’t demonstrate, reenact, show, etc. No, women must allure – tempt, entice, seduce, manipulate. Anything straightforward, logical, action orientated etc is not in the realm of women. I hate that Staci writes women as so seeped in deceit that our service to God cannot be separated from trickery and manipulation.
I used to lead a Sunday school class for the high school age kids at our church. My practice was to let the kids decide which book we would read each semester. Interestingly, one semester one of the girls requested Wild at Heart and the rest of the group agreed to give it a shot. Each week we would read one chapter and then discuss it during our class. Reading the book was agony — every two or three pages I would have to stop and rant to my poor wife about how awful it was before I could press on — but on Sunday mornings I kept my distress bottled up because I liked to let my class discuss their own views and reactions without injecting my own opinions (apart from giving them passages of scripture to compare/contrast) unless they asked for them. After the third chapter, one of the boys in the class said that he dreaded reading it every week and asked if we could consider switching to something else. There was a chorus of agreement from the others. Even the girl who had requested it said that she was deeply disappointed.